Perfectionist Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), and his free-spirited son Bo (Chris Pine) share a dream of producing a great Chardonnay at the Chateau Montelena vineyard Jim founded in Calistoga, California, in the early 1970s. Over in Paris, Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), a British expatriate who runs a wine boutique, is encouraged to do more to promote his shop by his American neighbour, Maurice (Denis Farina). He seizes on an idea to hold a blind tasting of French and Californian wines - and goes to Napa Valley to source entries. Barrett, put off by Spurrier's snobbish attitude, refuses to participate in the contest. Meanwhile, Bo is plunged into soul-searching after beautiful intern Sam (Rachael Taylor) spurns his advances in favor of his best friend, budding vintner Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez). Against his father's wishes, Bo enters Montelena in the contest. The rest is in the hands - or rather the palates - of the judges.
Review by Louise Keller:
Considering how many of us enjoy a glass of wine every day, there are too few films about wine. It's been 5 years since Alexander Payne's Sideways sang the praises of the complicated Pinot back in 2004, so Bottle Shock is a welcome addition to film's wine-tasting menu. Randall Miller's film is more than just a film about making and appreciating wine. It's a film about having a dream; it's about falling in love; it's about paying your bills; it's about fathers and sons. The context is a battle of the grapes. And the best part is that it is based on a true story. Like the chardonnay at the heart of the story, Bottle Shock is light with good body and plenty of flavour. It's also uplifting and amusing. In short, it makes you feel good.
The stunning opening scenes set the scene as we fly over a vineyard. The sun is peeping through the vines and we sense that the vineyard is full of life and promise. In contradiction, Bottle Shock's two key characters are in fact, rather gruff. Bill Pullman's Jim Barrett has mortgaged his soul to pursue his dream of creating the perfect chardonnay ('From hardship comes entitlement - for the grape'). Alan Rickman's gruff Paris wine-shop owner Steven Spurrier is looking for a gimmick to boost dwindling sales ('Every entrepreneurial endeavour needs a risk'). Although the two men dislike each other the moment they meet, their fate becomes intertwined.
First we become involved in Jim Barrett's life in which his three hefty mortgages are souring his dream. He and rebel son Bo Barrett (Chris Pine) resolve their (frequent) differences in a make-shift boxing ring in the middle of the vineyards, but neither has faith in the other. Then we get to understand the mindset of the very British and ultra snobbish Steven Spurrier, as he swills French wines with his American colleague (Denis Farina), who believes marketing is the answer to everything. Rickman steals many scenes and there are two engaging subplots involving the charismatic Rachael Taylor (Sam), hunky Chris Pine (Bo) and impressive Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez) whose passion for making wine is addictive.
Could Californian wines be as good - or in the same league - as the French, whose history in winemaking is legendary? This is beginning of Bottle Shock - and a journey from which we can learn a few things, get involved with the characters, feel uplifted and acquire a thirst for a good glass of wine.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Wine country, whether in France or California, is always beautiful and emotive on screen, and gets our juices going, so it's a clever move to start the film with aerial shots of vineyards. We know where we are and where we are going: wine tasting. Wine growers and wine makers are a special breed who see themselves as artists and scientists all rolled into one. And they have to be resilient, like all farmers.
But this story has an extra gold medal in that it's based on the historic moment in time when, for the first time ever, a bunch of snobbish French wine judges went through a blind tasting, organised by an Englishman no less, and found themselves voting a Californian chardonnay the winner ahead of the French entries. As Alan Rickman's Steven Spurrier (the wine shop owner and competition organiser) says afterwards, it was a moment that signalled not the end of French dominance in wine but the beginning of a new world order in which wine enthusiasts would soon be drinking wine - and good wine - from places as unlikely as South America - and even Australia. That was 1976 and the event has become of historic significance, with Spurrier's words shown to be prophetic.
The film also records the happy accidents of fate that made the event possible - only just - and the romantic sideshow around pretty vineyard intern Sam (Rachael Taylor). Everyone gets into the spirit of the thing and Alan Rickman squeezes every once of juice from his fruity role as the accidental midwife to wine appreciation on a global scale. Bill Pullman and Chris Pine are surprisingly effective as father and son who clash but find resolution, Rachael Taylor is lovely and likeable, while Freddy Rodriguez makes a strong impression as Gustavo, another young man with winemaking in his veins.
It's easy to take, enjoyable and escapist, and while it celebrates Californian wine making, it doesn't disparage the French. By necessity compressed and a tad simplistic, Bottle Shock is nevertheless satisfying.
Email this article
BOTTLE SHOCK (M)
CAST: Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina, Rachael Taylor
PRODUCER: Randall Miller, Jody Savin, J. Todd Harris, Brenad Lhormer, Marc Toberoff
DIRECTOR: Randall Miller
SCRIPT: Jody Savin, Randall Miller, Ross Schwartz
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mike Ozier
EDITOR: Randall Miller, Dan O'Brien
MUSIC: Mark Adler
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Craig Stearns
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 26, 2009